Social Security for Divorced Spouses


Some people may not realize that they’re eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits based on their ex’s work history. So, if your ex was a high earner, you may be able to get a larger retirement benefit thanks to this rule. See, they were good for something, right? However, there are some strange rules you’ll need to follow, so be sure to stay to the very end where I share one rule that’s kind of scary when you think about it.

How Much Can You Receive?

For divorced spouses, the amount of Social Security benefits you can receive based on your ex’s work history depends on a couple of factors. Generally, you’re entitled to receive the greater of:

  • 50% of your ex’s benefits, or
  • 100% of your own benefits.

You don’t get both. However, if your ex is deceased, then you may be eligible for up to 100% of your ex’s retirement benefits as a survivor benefit.

Just like the Social Security benefits you would receive based on your own work history, your spousal benefits will be reduced if you apply early. However, unlike regular retirement benefits, spousal benefits do not increase beyond your Full Retirement Age, so there’s no point in delaying beyond then.

Any benefits you receive as a divorced spouse do not affect the benefits of your ex or their current spouse if they’ve remarried. Think about all those people who have had three or four marriages – every one of their exes may be eligible for ex-spousal benefits!

Requirements for Eligibility

Just because you’re divorced doesn’t mean you’re automatically eligible. First, the normal rules around Social Security eligibility still apply. You must be at least 62 years old to receive retirement benefits. (The minimum age for survivor’s benefits is 60, but I’ll cover those rules in a future blog post.)

If your marriage didn’t last at least 10 years, you’re not eligible for ex-spousal retirement benefits. Also, remarrying will disqualify you from claiming retirement benefits based on your ex’s earnings history. This may be the biggest reason why widows and widowers don’t get remarried later in life.

If your divorce happened less than two years ago, you’ll only be able to apply for divorced spousal benefits if your ex has already applied for his or her benefits. Once the divorce is two years behind you, it doesn’t matter if your ex has applied or not.

A Funny Rule to Think About

There’s one more rule that I haven’t mentioned yet. What happens if someone is divorced, but has had multiple marriages that lasted for 10 years or more? As it turns out, they get to choose the ex-spouse that will provide them with the greatest Social Security benefit.

I think that’s kind of crazy. It also makes me wonder if someone has tried to refuse to take ex-spousal benefits from one ex – even though those benefits were higher – just because they despised them so much. That would be a funny story!

If you need help figuring out your best strategy for Social Security benefits, then click here to set up a quick, complimentary introduction call to see if Prana Wealth is a good fit. We do still have the capacity to take on new clients.

As a fee-only financial advisor in Atlanta, we can (and do) work virtually with clients all across the U.S. and we’re here to help you when you’re ready.

The information contained herein is intended to be used for educational purposes only and is not exhaustive. Diversification and/or any strategy that may be discussed does not guarantee against investment losses but is intended to help manage risk and return. If applicable, historical discussions and/or opinions are not predictive of future events. The content is presented in good faith and has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable. The content is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Please consult a legal, tax, or financial professional for information specific to your individual situation.
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